I met him at my cousin Caleb’s wedding in September 2011 at the tail end of the evening. There was a fire burning and many Mormons clustered around it singing. Mormons because Karen, Caleb’s wife had come from a Mormon family. The Mormons didn’t drink but they sang and played guitar. And people who did drink and weren’t Mormons also sang. There were men standing around, Caleb’s guy friends, passing a flask full of whiskey and laughing. I stood in this circle because I like whiskey and the company of men. This is where I first met Cort, best man, great speech giver, and one of Caleb’s closest friends.

I didn’t know it then but it was the perfect way to meet Cort. It was somehow beautiful and pagan, at the end of a great celebration, near a little fire in a circle of men, drinking whiskey from a flask. I had written a poem for the wedding and Cort demanded to hear it. Then he told me a poem, I can’t remember which one. Then I recited one of my sonnets and we went back and forth bellowing poetry into each other’s faces. It felt right.

It had been a hard summer for me. My boyfriend, whom I had been convinced, was ‘The One’ had just recently announced at a restaurant that he was moving to San Francisco. He wasn’t ready, however, to ask me to move with him and he ‘didn’t know where that left us.’ I was devastated. Added to this breakup was no job and with the first draft of a novel that wasn’t going anywhere.

Now I stood outside underneath the stars somewhere in southern California at a Buddhist retreat called Pema Osel Ling, I was a little mellow and exchanging poetry with a fellow writer. Life, suddenly, was okay.

Cort said he loved my sonnet and that he would get in touch. He then announced he had to bring more wood for the fire and stumbled into the little group of trees that represented a forest, tripped over a branch, fell into a bush and almost split a gut laughing.

I didn’t take him too seriously.

The first email came three days later. He had remembered my name and had gotten in touch through my website.

It would be the first of many emails, the beginning of many phone calls.

It’s hard for me to describe what his first email meant to me other than to put down what I actually wrote to him, word for word, which is at the end of this tribute. Among other things I told him that I felt his email had ‘kind of saved my life.’ It was true. I did feel that and I still do.

An hour or two after I had sent the first email, I sent another, hideous embarrassed, apologizing for how dramatic I had sounded. I didn’t know yet that Cort was the kind of person who would never be embarrassed or made awkward by raw emotion and vulnerability.

Through the next year and a half Cort and I wrote, had long conversations on the phone and even met occasionally as when he came to New York. Cort’s main agenda with me was helping me get my book out into the world. He was the first person, outside of my family, who believed in my novel.

Cort proved to be completely unselfish and warm and supportive, I had never come across someone, who, with no hidden agenda, truly wanted me to succeed and encouraged me when I was down. ‘Get on it,’ he would say, or ‘be quick but don’t hurry.’ He never failed to inspire me, to encourage me or to give me hope. I even saved his voice messages, they became a kind of talisman, and a small fire I could warm my hands on when the night seemed blackest.

Cort was utterly true to his word, even inviting me to a join him in a lunch between him and his agent, an act of generosity that most writers would never consider. At lunch over steak, I described my work to his agent as not the ‘Next Great American Novel’ but as the ‘Next Great Airport Novel’ I said I would be content if people would buy it at the airport.  This line, in the past, had always gotten me a laugh. Cort smiled but when the agent had left he was furious.

Never fucking let me hear you say that again!’ He barked ‘Bullshit! Your work is so much more than that!’

I didn’t say it again.

It was Cort who got my first chapter published in his joint produced ebook Noir Nation and Cort who gave me an incredible recommendation when I was applying to my writing space Paragraph. That’s the kind of person he was.

Cort asked me if I would look over his manuscript CAGEFIGHTER and give him some edits. I did. I loved it. It was funny and bloody, and meaty and bright and filled with promise. It was the kind of book that was screaming to be a movie. I couldn’t wait to see how it ended.

In the last few months my correspondence with Cort started to fade. I didn’t know why. I was deep into my third and final draft. I was planning to get in touch as soon as it was finished. Cort had had some harsh things to say about my second draft, and now looking back, I agreed with him about a lot of it. I had rewritten a massive amount and I couldn’t wait to show him the final result. My book was ready to be sent out into the world. I couldn’t wait for him to read it.

‘Hey Cort,’ I would write, ‘what’s up, where the hell have you been? It’s finally done!!!! ’

I never got the chance.

I heard the news on Monday April 23rd through one of my best friend’s, who I had also met at the wedding. She asked me if I had heard the news ‘about that guy, Cort.’

I was shell-shocked. I didn’t know how to process what I was hearing. It made no sense. I didn’t understand why. I still don’t. No one seems to know. I looked through our correspondence in search of clues. I searched for red flags, for signs I had missed. I listened to his voice messages I had saved.

I wanted to write a fitting tribute for Cort, who in many ways, much to my infinite sorrow, I didn’t know at all. That is to say that I didn’t know Cort the way that most people did. I didn’t grow up with him, meet him at school, work with him or take one of his workshops. I knew him as someone who had been a stranger but became a friend, a mentor, one of the most generous, amazing human beings I had ever met. I called him my boxing coach, he was the person who supported me and encouraged me with my work because he believed in me and wanted to help get my work out there. No ulterior motives. He was a lover of books, of words, a writer, a mentor, a guide, a friend.

I decided the best way to honor Cort was to share some of our emails, his part, in our all too brief correspondence.

I haven’t altered Cort’s emails in any way, not his spelling or the content, only removing one or two names for privacy. When reading them you have a sense of his passion and his impatience for everything, all at once.

Edna St Vicent Millay a passion poet, writer and scholar who took all life had to offer and partied equally hard, wrote in her poem God’s World

‘Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough!’

Maybe Cort tried to hold the world too close and it turned on him. Maybe he felt that he would never be able to hold the world close enough. His loss is the world’s loss.

I think these emails say a great deal about Cort, they speak of his wit, his enthusiasm, his exuberance, his love of his friends, his passion for writing, for literature, his dedication to supporting writers he believed in. He had nothing to gain by befriending me, and taking up my book as yet another project, when he was already overwhelmed with his own work, but he believed in me and wanted to help me out. It was that simple. It was that rare.

Cort, I will miss you.

We were lucky to have had you as long as we did. It wasn’t nearly, nearly, nearly long enough.

My thoughts, love and prayers to your family,



Your Name: cort
Your Email: ______
Subject: Bhuddist Woes
Message: Sophie-

It’s Cort. I enjoyed chatting with you at the wedding. I’m just writing to let you know that I did not forget my words that i would help you find a publisher for your book…looks to me like you have a very accomplished career so far, which does not surprise me.

How can I help? With the novel the best thing to do is send me the first 60 pages, if you’d like. I’ll read them and pass them along to my agent, ____ at_____. As much as I know I railed on about Melville etc, my agent is actually a very commercially oriented guy, though he does have some literary sense. If that doesn’t pan out I know a lot of folks in publishing from Romance to literary, as I myself used to publish a literary magazine, etc…

anyways, even in my cups I know when im in the presence of a real writer…which I might add is not necessarily a good thing..as my UNcle who’s a writer told me upon reading my first short story “God help you” he said–“you’re a writer!”.
Again, it was a pleasure meeting you.




are u kidding me? most of my emails are longer and more rambling than Finnegans Wake…so please No worries at all…

im actualluy glad you sent an email that mapped out the complete vision of the thematically connected short stories. it helps me see what you’re trying accomplish. whats more I think that having a cadre of inter connected tales stand a much greater chance of getting published than great stand alone pieces…think Denis Johnson JESUS SON and Susan Minot’s MONKEY’s both of which you should take a look at if you havent…John Haskell’s collection I AM NOT JACKSON POLLOCK is probably even closer to the mark though not as well written (still its very good) becuase its about “quasi famous” people/animals or people who knew/brushes up with famous people..

therefore, its good that you let yourself “go on”..

Ok..I read “Big Bird” and its very good and there’s an honesty there and the prose has soem great lines and theres a strange suggestion of coming darkness (bad economic times) which when combined with the pathos of the last paragraph feels good and earned bleakness/ still theres some cleaning up to do in a few parts but no worries..i’ll help you with that…i will send you my edits this weekend and give me the weekend to read NIGHT SONGS…i read the first ten pages and breathed a big sigh of relief that your prose is as good as your poetry…so i def think i can help with that too…but let me read the whole 60 first then we’ll pow wow early next week.

something you should know about this task youre undertaking…NIGHTSONGS will probably be an easier sale…i could see that whipped up with some cool black and white illustrations and be a big seller…BUT im very excited about the stories…its a great concept..relevent and powerful and if all the stories resonate with the same wise/sadness that Big Bird has then it will be a very powerful accomplishment…now for the Truth: Short Story collections are a very tough sale to literary agents…novels are the easy money..i know this b/c like you i tried doing it the hard way..i published like 5 short stories over a period of 7 years in well regarded mags even won an award…well, it wasnt until i wrote a novel about being a gambling addicted commodities trader (my novel SHORT) that the publishing industry saw fit to let me loose on the public…i was 39 years old and id been writing since 21…

for short stories what has to happen is you have to get “discovered”..being in New York is a great place for that to happen…and it’ll only happen through these five venues: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harpers, Playboy, The Atlantic and maybe ZOetrope…but if you do what an enemy of mine did who is a successful writer,___. In his “novel” ____” he sort of does in a slicker more SEX in the CITY way than DOs PAssos in MANHATTAN TRANSFER..he sort of fudges a novel..interconnecting stories by having the book about everyone in the same apartment building..if you can find a way to somehow link the narratives of your TV tales..then selling this book/project will be way easier…i’ll probably respect you more if u suffer in obscurity like i did…but i guess i feel like ‘well i got my ass kicked, someone should benefit’ kind of wisdom…

anyways, ive probably gone on too long..but we’ll pow wow on say tuesday..ill send you an email or we can chat/ whatever…in the meanitme i wud def like to see that story “predator”…if you have it completed…

anyways, good on you, sophie. you have talent..now you have to fight/work like hell to get it into print..and as i say, im happy to help.





Ok just wanted to shoot this by you. NIGHT SONGS is actually quite amazing. I know you think its “commercial” but its great storytelling, inventive, well written, harrowing in parts, haunting in others and completely original…i think this will probably make you.

Now look there is no pressure on this at all but i have some good news for you to consider…i am an editor at a new publication called NOIR NATION. http://www.noirnation.com…also check out the book on amazon.com..type in “noir nation” cortright mcmeel… We published some award winning and best selling authors in issue one, especially my favorite noir fiction writer, Scott Wolven, who was named top noir writer of the decade by James Ellroy…his book of stories published by Scribners called CONTROLLED BURN is excellent. Issue two will feature National Book Award winner Madison Smartt Bell, New Yorker writer Nick Arvin, and bestselling author of THE DOPE THIEF, Dennis Tafoya….

ok, the reason i go on is that I think you’ll be in very good literary cred company if you’ll let me publish an “excerpt” of NIGHT SONGS–“Puppy” in issue #2 of NOIR NATION..we pay $100 and we’d be honored to publish you.

I hope my edits of BIG BIRD were ok…i dont think i did your beginning justice…but i do feel if worked on a bit..the beginnign cud be punched up to be v.good and match the terrific ending & middle sections…

anyways, im off to bed now..got to wake up at 4am to hit the trading pits. talk tomorrow.





Just want to go over the gameplan cuz we covered a lot….and i want you to go into your October cocoon of editing with a positive mindset that something will happen here…

Oct1-31..sophie rewrites NIGHT SONGS (feel free to email about any roadblocks or chapters causing probs: just remember im kinda jammed in oct.)

Nov1-5..cort reads whole novel. suggests edits/discuss strength/weaknesses etc.

Nov 5-31…sophie rewrites and then NIGHT SONGS goes out to agent ___ at ___.

Backup plan if __ passes: My good friend Sarah Shun-lien Bynum who was nominated for National Book Award wrote a novel called MADELINE(sp?) IS SLEEPING…it has a similar feel and subject matter (18th century fairy tale set in France) as parts of NIGHT SONGS…she’s smart, cool and connected and she’ll be into your book…if __ passes i will send to her and she will be able to recommend an agent (maybe her own)…

also im thinking Sophie that at some point before we send the novel to__ you two should just have lunch or i’ll find some pretext for you to meet him…it will give you that extra edge when he’s reading the novel as long as you dont vomit on him or overturn a table while yelling about MOBY DICK or something like that…im confident youll do fine, and i cant profess that confidence for certain other writers i know (ahem!)..

i’ll send on my stuff whenever you’re well along and almost done with NIGHT SONGS..you need to concentrate on that..i myseld wud kill for a month in a dusty garret with no one around.

also, SEVEN GOTHIC TALES /Isak Dinesen and as a poet Denis Johnson stories JESUS SON..both must reads after youre done…

good luck. work hard. pray to that muse.





I spoke with Eddie, he’s the publisher/editor in chief of NOIR NATION…there’s nothing to sign..thats only with novels..the policy with Hollywood rights is if a TV/Movie producer is interested in rights to a story, full payment reverts to the author…which is standard for Lit mags/journals, author friendly. You get the check for $100 from NOIR NATION upon publication and Eddie or I will work with you on any editing required.

Otherwise, just let me know and I’ll tell Eddie you’re in..like I said if this excerpt was soemthing NEW YORKER/PARSI REVIEW friendly i’d say give it a try but as it’s edgy as Hell with a crime basis I think NN is your best bet..and liek i said you’ll be alongside some very resepcted names and a publicaiton is crucial to have on the resume when you send the novel to agent,__ included…

i’ll be in touch..adios for now.



I too was sitting in a bar tonight…not sipping whiskey..but guzzling..a great victory…

a friend of mine..a stolid courageous writer of big heart, old in novleist years 42+ slaved away at a book for a long time and he sent it out and now a publisher has asked for the whole novel …after he sent out the first 50 pages,,,which they “very much liked”

now i helped him with this book and its a good book…and just the feeling of drinking heavily in a bar with someone who is probably about to be published because i edited his novel and helped him is a tremendous thing for me…

..so take this for what it is..you should never give up….

anyways. rmeber..half this shit is about the effort..the war force of trying..the other half is when you launch ..do you have wings of greatness???

i knwo this all. somehow ive lived it a thousand times…stories..from my drunken irish machinegunner gramps to old Homer who ive studied in the greek..its my religion Sophie..so always feel free to write me day or night about it..because ill always have something to say…and it will always amount to the same advice:

never give it up because when u do, you’re like everyone else…

bed for me now.

u shud plan to meet __ early november.





I’ll try give you a ring friday…im crushed with work until then..bizness shit goin crazy…unfortunately that pays the bills…also i got my ebook company launching mid Nov ..it was supposed to be Oct 27th but everything pushed back so im jammed until Nov 15th anyways…

after nov 15 i will take a look at whatever you have and give you my honest read on it…as for meeting ___..you dont want to meet him until you have a mean clean manuscript in hand that you are proud to call done…

i sort of felt him out about a “social” meeting …and like everyone else these days coming up on Xmas season he’s super busy…so on his guidance the best way to do it is get NIGHT SONGS to a finished form….meet him….do lunch/drinks…exchange pleasantries so he knows your face…and then hand him THE COMPLETE MANUSCRIPT///

does this make sense??? I know you’re feeling the heat of uncertainty..but this is normal for 1st novel…the big mistake is rushing in and handing something off prematurely…you only get one crack per agent..so lets hit it out of park on 1st one..and patience in this scenario is a virtue…

talk soon.



My writing space asks Cort for a recommendation of me, before I can warn him that they might be in touch



i kinda laid it on thick, but usually the directors of these things are pretty tightass and what they wanna know is that youre not some crazy alcoholic…hope this works.



Dear Sara,

First of, I’d like to say Sophie would be a perfect fit with Paragraph. I’ve known Sophie for some time. I do not know a more serious student of literature. As a published novelist, I know the respect and hard work one has to have with regard to the craft to make it in these tough times for “fiction.” Sophie is such a student, serious and diligent. She is also an intelligent, mature person who would benefit from such an arrangement. Furthermore, I can assure you she would be an assett to any writer’s space and organization, bringing her talent for wordsmithing, her vast knowledge of literary fiction as well as a pleasant and winning demeanor.


Cortright McMeel (author of SHORT/St. Martin’s Press/Dec 2010)



Good chat on NIGHT SONGS…i think you’re rolling. So keep going with the magic…finish it!

Sorry about the Tardiness on this…read at your liesure..love your thougths/criticism on whatever feels “off”, need works, or seems ordinary and cud be punched up thru language or strorytelling…

also, i have your pages edits. let me know where to send ’em if you want them.





Hey there..look i got kind of a nasty message from my agent whos very pissed because he’s got a bunch of publishing folk revved up to read CAGEFIGHTER and he’d promsed it to them weeks ago..so im on his shitlist…basically every waking hour where im not working or taking my kids to ice hockey, im writing to finish this bad boy…

it would be a tremendous help if you could email your comments we went over the other day…that would be really excellent so i could just go down the list and bash them out..dont spare me any truths..everything you said seemed right on to me….

ok, so once you do that i can go back and do a fire revision over the begining…here is my time line:

next 3 weeks blaze like hellhound to finish the book and do revision..i have like 5 chapters left so it might be doable…the problem is im not gonna have any time to help you with Night SOngs until after…3 weeks puts us right around March 15 when i roll into NYC..so you have to figure out if you want to hand __ pages when you meet him at the NAC..or if you wanna wait until after youve met him and i get time to read your whole MS and let you know my thoughts..OR if youre feeling ballsy & you think its ready and you dont need me to read before you send we can so that too…

its up to you. i say you work hard..read over and then go with your gut…

anyways, im bashign out chapters today in the lodge while wife and kids ski…no one ever said the writing life was fun..and if they did id like to set them straight…adios for now, and thanks for your comments ahead of time…





First off, it was great seeing you..NYC is always a big blast…and thanks for showing up to the NAC..you didnt have to have but it was cool to have old and new friends there…

I think it was really important that you came to 21..this kind of personal hand off means A LOT more than an emailed one…so lets just operate under the premise that __ loves the pages and wants to the whole thing…(which if he’s smart he will)…

Send me whatever you want as soon as possible and we’ll work like hellfire to hammer out anything that needs hammering…part of me though would like now to see the WHOLE manuscript when you have it because i want to be able to read it as part of one big narrative arc…this si the whole beast that ___will want and we should have the whole thing in  shape, the sooner the better…because although 21 was a tactical victory..it was a gutsy one becuase should ___move somewhat quickly (4-6 weeks in agentworld) we now have to deliver..an entire book..

no fears…your stuff is chock full of talent and imagination and i have no worries..just send it downt he pike to me when you can and we will ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!!

as for St. PADDYS i was asleep in bed on sat night after a long day with the kids at the MET/FAO SCHWARTZ/st.pday parade etcetc…my worst st. paddys showing ever,,,but there is always next year…




Ahoy Sophie & Cabes—-

One of my authors LES EDGERTON was nominated for prestigious SPINETINGLER AWARD for his novel THE BITCH (in the 9+ novels “Legends” category)  and NOIR NATION was nominated for SPINETINGLER BEST ZINE…if we win it’ll be big kudos since this paltry sounding award is the crime worlds version of the Pulitzer Prize or NAtional Book Award..and itll be dough…

There is a big tall pint of Guinness or cheap whiskey shot waiting for anyone who votes on the below site…its means alot to me guys and id be hugely thankful….you are hardcore friends who read books…if i can count on your votes then that is a start.


Kublai Kort

I tell Cort about my accident



Jesus Christ!! Are you okay? That sounds horrible…im just glad no head injury..concussions are bad and have long lasting effects that get worse as i well know/…but obviously youre downplaying it if youre using a cane..hey, make sure they do a Catscan…ok??? i dont want  see a talented writier hindered with MIgraines in 3 yrs because of CT scar tissue hangover,.,,.

and whats this nonsense about being terrified to send me the book..if it sucks i kick your ass and you make it good/because you are a godd writer you can do this…simple..just like you kicked my ass on CAGEFIGHTER…just need that trusted set of extra eyes…

And  yeah you shud be very proud…

my situation is CAGEFIGHTER is nearing completion by Nov. and I have two TV things going on , one with BBC and the other with an Indy…so its good stuff but im swampoed..ill of course make time to read your novel…im more than looking forward to it and ill send you my thoughts when im done…hopefully mid sep//sound good???

chat soon and take care and get a Cat Scan if you didnt already…



A back and forth and I send him NIGHTSONGSophie–

Ok..Im sitting down reading NIGHTSONG and just finished up to p. 65. “The Plot Thickens”…

“Sickle Man” your now Chapter 1 still rocks out..hard! Its the stuff of a great novel opening…you write this and you know you have IT…

Ok now for the tough stuff//

The story has changed…its now more of a conventional “psychopath”/serial killer story…gone are the time shifts from Medieval Times..the great color and texture and imagination & Sadism of that world–which sort of fed into the grey cynical nihilsm of your New York was a perfect counterpoint…gone is the great demon on the bus scene of modern times when we were starting to know who the Sickle Man was & and wonder at the Epic extent of his evil…so from a plot line perspectivde i got to be honest and say I miss the ambition and invention of the time shifts that you had before…it was risk taking and made the reading of the novel both a unique and mercurial experience…

Another problem that Im finding in this new draft is while the writing is sharp and jamming in Chap 1, the prose of the following chapters  dont strive like that one. the are garrulous but not lyrical..the scenes tend to blend, and the language doesnt pop..the landscape of New York seems somehow flat…even the ABC party, the tension when Katherine meets the Sickle Man seems forced and dramatic…it gets good again when we’re back in the shadowy bar with the man coughing..then it once again retains a great sinister even epic feel and i once again get hooked..

id say you need to distill this…and work to PUSH PUSH PUSH the scenes between the two i just mentioned…there is way to much extraneous information about irrelevent characters (room mate, gay friend, mean stroke victim) and details about produce and eating habits that dont feed the narrative drive of this story—or at least its not apparent how they do and instead these details slow the narrative…by taking out the great Sadistic Medieval storyline we’re in a more one dimesional tale that moves too slowly and needs to be way tightened…

I know what kind of writer you are…and what kind of original risk taking vision this novel had…so im a little confused..why did you scrap that storyline???

You and I made a lil pact to be honest with each other. i dont think this is your A game. Novels are hard…alchemy of language has to rub against architecture of plot and find that perfect blend..I KNOW you can do this…my initial feel is someone or something took you off the initial vision of the book and your now striving…and i can feel when i read it that it feels like work to you.

am i right or am i full of shit?

looking fwd to argue or talk this out.





 Im almost done with the novel and am really loving it…much awesomeness throughout…you should be proud.

 I got my parents in town for past ten days so have a lot of family stuff going on…i’ll get your line edits on first part to you by next tuesday. then we’ll chat about those and the novel as a whole…sound good?

My first email to Cort



 I don’t know how to say this without sounding hideously dramatic and maybe therefore I shouldn’t but I felt like your email saved my life today.  

 Maybe if I put in the words ‘kind of’ it would better. 

 Cort, I feel like your email kind of saved my life. 

 Americans would tend to call that statement intense and I know it’s not cool and not the way to play it, but nevertheless. 

 I had just been on the phone screeching and screaming with my kind, anxious father calling from South Africa (since he’s South African) about the misery of everything and how hard, lonely, frightening etc when it came through. 

 First and foremost. Yes please, to everything.

 Here are my first 70 pages of the novel (so you can finish the chapter if you desire but no pressure) I just deleted a huge paragraph of disclaimer about the book and its aims and genre etc etc. All I’ll say is that I’m in the process of editing, reworking and tightening the second half. 

I am also going to take a chance and send you something else. I’m doing it because the one phrase ‘green and gold’ that you chose to speak of in my sonnet happens to be my favorite too. I’m also doing this because you spoke of being brave, of writing something honest, the book you have to write, because you have to write it. 

Even if it doesn’t work out or nothing happens (although of course I pray and pray and pray that it does) I will always feel that your email ‘kind of’ saved my life and I always be thankful.  

Frankly it was a dark day today and then someone asked how can I help?  Someone who didn’t need to, actually gave a shit. 

 That means the world to me. 

 Let me know if it all went through and your thoughts



Cort and his wife Sharon.

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